Vintage Pulp Apr 28 2024
CRAWFORD IN THE PINK
Joan is in her sweet spot with a challenging film role.


How do you judge a great acting performance? One way is when beforehand you look at the performer and the part and say, “Impossible, doesn't fit, can't possibly work,” then it does. Flamingo Road, which premiered in the U.S today in 1949, features Joan Crawford as a carny performer and it doesn't fit. But probably nobody would seem to fit. The main character evolves over years from carny chippie into upper crust lady, so either way a filmmaker would have to make a difficult choice—cast an ingenue who evolves into a sophisticated middle-aged woman, or cast a mature actress and hope she can play young. They chose the later option with Crawford, and it can't possibly work. But this is Crawford we're talking about—she could make most any role work, and does so here with a typically assured performance.

Flamingo Road is set in the American south and is about the social mores and political machinations of a small but wealthy town. The title refers to the enclave where the rich and powerful live together in their mansions and manors. The carny version of Crawford falls for local deputy sherrif Zachary Scott, but he's been tabbed by local kingpin Sydney Greenstreet to be his puppet in the state senate. As part of that plan Scott is to marry into wealth. Cavorting with a carny isn't going to fly. Greenstreet decides to break them up, or hurt Crawford trying, and there's nothing so underhanded or injurious that he won't do it. Crawford, though, is tougher than anyone expects, and what she learns from her travails is, first: she's going to make it to Flamingo Road no matter what it takes; and second: she will have her revenge. That's all we'll tell you about the plot.

Flamingo Road is another of those movies that's often called a film noir, and while we don't try to be gatekeepers of what is and isn't noir—because we have no authority to do so—we also don't avoid stating the obvious. Flamingo Road isn't a film noir. Some entities, including respected ones, have a vested interest in casting the noir net as widely as possible. If you host noir festivals, for example, after a while you need to expand your defintion of noir to keep your slate fresh. If you write film noir books, you might want to demonstrate that you think outside the box by including Chinatown or Lat sau san taam or The Limey (all excellent movies, by the way).

At the opposite extreme, several prominent critics attest that film noir doesn't exist at all. That's like saying there's no such thing as superhero movies because costumed heroes are just further iterations of superpowered characters such as Rambo. Superhero movies exist. So does film noir, though it resides within the wider genres of crime and drama. However, it's too easy to call any movie with conflict and a few neon-splashed night sequences a noir. Film noir is as much thematic as it is iconographic. In every way that we can discern, Flamingo Road isn't one. The definitive American Film Institute calls it a melodrama. We agree. It's a melodrama in which a good actress, aged north of forty, overcomes difficult casting to knock her years-spanning role out of the park.
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Femmes Fatales Dec 12 2014
WORRY DOLL
Photo sessions make me nervous and then I look uneasy or stressed, so please wait until I’m smiling before you—

Actually, American actress Gladys George did tend to look worried in many of her photos. Not her fault—it’s just the way her face was built. But she coincidentally suffered from numerous worrisome ailments during her life, including throat cancer, heart disease, and cirrhosis. You may remember her as Iva Archer in the classic noir The Maltese Falcon, but she also appeared in Madame X, They Gave Him a Gun, and The House that Jazz Built, among more than forty other films. She eventually died early from a cerebral hemorrhage. 
 
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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 19
1966—Sinatra Marries Farrow
Superstar singer and actor Frank Sinatra marries 21-year-old actress Mia Farrow, who is 30 years younger than him. The marriage lasts two years.
July 18
1925—Mein Kampf Published
While serving time in prison for his role in a failed coup, Adolf Hitler dictaes and publishes volume 1 of his manifesto Mein Kampf (in English My Struggle or My Battle), the book that outlines his theories of racial purity, his belief in a Jewish conspiracy to control the world, and his plans to lead Germany to militarily acquire more land at the expense of Russia via eastward expansion.
July 17
1955—Disneyland Begins Operations
The amusement park Disneyland opens in Orange County, California for 6,000 invitation-only guests, before opening to the general public the following day.
1959—Holiday Dies Broke
Legendary singer Billie Holiday, who possessed one of the most unique voices in the history of jazz, dies in the hospital of cirrhosis of the liver. She had lost her earnings to swindlers over the years, and upon her death her bank account contains seventy cents.
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